When you stop and notice, we live in environments saturated with text and signage – store signs, building logos, street signs, traffic signs, billboards. Urban signage decorates our communities with a textual veil that masks complex economic, social and political relationships. Public signage occupies public space, but the public has few ways to participate. It is a cacophanous lecture rather than a conversation.
Enter Cityspeak. Artists Jason Lewis, Maroussia Lévesque, Lucie Bélanger and Lysanne Bellemare have created a way for citizens to exercise cultural citizenship through celluar phone networks. At various sites around the world, they have installed their interactive text-messaging billboards. Participants encounter an installation which gives a phone number. Using their SMS- and web-enabled cellphones or wireless PDAs to send text to a common server, text messages are processed by artist developed software called NextText and streamed back to the location in the form of large-scale projections. The projection captures commentary, stories, conversations or simply play as participants explore the dynamic ability to leave messages in public space.
Cityspeak is ephemeral graffiti, using private modes of communication to generate public displays of commentary about a particular location. It is an example p2P (private-to-public) communication which allows participants to use communication technologies we tend to think of as private–cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants–to create public displays.
Cityspeak is a partner in the Mobile Digital Commons Network, a group of artists, university and industry researchers and policy activists that is experimenting with ways in which to bring the ideas of a creative commons to the wireless environment in Canada.
Photo: Elida Arrizza